How To Identify Alzheimer’s Disease, Symptoms And Treatment
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects more than 5 million people in the United States. Although it’s known to affect adults 65 years and older, up to 5 percent of those diagnosed have early onset AD. This generally means that the person diagnosed is in their 40s or 50s. But in this topic, we’ll be discussing “How to easily identify Alzheimer’s disease: symptoms and treatment.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior in older adults, and is the fifth-leading cause of death in people ages 65 and older, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
An individual suffering from Alzheimer disease can be difficult to obtain a true diagnosis at this age because many symptoms may appear to be a result of typical life events such as stress. As the disease affects the brain, it can cause a decline in memory, reasoning, and thinking abilities. The decline is typically slow, but this can vary on a case-by-case basis.
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According to said Dr. Brad Hyman, a neurologist and director of the Massachusetts Disease Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Alzheimer’s disease is often used as a synonym for dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for impaired memory thinking skills, and Alzheimer’s is a specific form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for 50-70% of all dementia cases, according to Alzheimers.net.
An explosion of research over the last five years has shed more light on what goes wrong in the brain during Alzheimer’s. Four things are seen in the brain tissue of a person who has died of the disease: The two traits that Dr. Alzheimer noted, plus nerve cell loss and inflammation, he said.
The increased appearance of plaques, which are protein deposits that buildup in the spaces between nerve cells, is widely believed to be what initiates the disease in the brain, Hyman said. Twisted tangles of proteins called tau proteins can build up inside nerve cells, and along with increased numbers of plaques, can block communication between nerve cells.
The continued loss of connections between nerve cells damages them to the point that they can no longer function properly in the parts of the brain affecting memory, and the nerve cells eventually die. As more nerve cells die, parts of the brain that control reasoning, language and thinking skills are also affected, and brain tissue begins to shrink.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms will gradually worsen over time. Alzheimer’s is broken down into seven stages:
- Stage 1. There are no symptoms at this stage but there might be an early diagnosis based on family history.
- Stage 2. The earliest symptoms appear, such as forgetfulness.
- Stage 3. Mild physical and mental impairments appear, such as reduced memory and concentration. These may only be noticeable by someone very close to the person.
- Stage 4. Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed at this stage, but it’s still considered mild. Memory loss and the inability to perform everyday tasks is evident.
- Stage 5. Moderate to severe symptoms require help from loved ones or caregivers.
- Stage 6. At this stage, a person with Alzheimer’s may need help with basic tasks, such as eating and putting on clothes.
- Stage 7. This is the most severe and final stage of Alzheimer’s. There may be a loss of speech and facial expressions.
The brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s may begin a decade or more before a person begins experiencing symptoms. AD is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a general term for the loss of memory functions or other mental abilities that affect your daily life.
According to the Healthline research, symptoms in people with mild-to-moderate forms of Alzheimer’s may include:
You or a loved one may begin to appear more forgetful than normal. Forgetting important dates or events can occur. If questions become repetitive and frequent reminders are required, you should see your doctor.
Difficulty planning and solving problems
AD may become more apparent if you or a loved one has difficulty developing and following a plan of action. Working with numbers may also become difficult.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
Some people may experience a greater problem with concentration. Routine day-to-day tasks requiring critical thought may take longer as the disease progresses. The ability to drive safely may also be called into question. If you or a loved one gets lost while driving a commonly traveled route, this may be a symptom of AD.
Difficulty determining time or place
Losing track of dates and misunderstanding the passage of time as it occurs are also two common symptoms. Planning for future events can become difficult since they aren’t immediately occurring.
As symptoms progress, people with AD can become increasingly forgetful about where they are, how they got there, or why they’re there.
Vision problems can also occur. This may be as simple as an increased difficulty in reading. You or a loved one may also begin to have problems judging distance and determining contrast or color when driving. [ Optic Nerve Function ]
Difficulty finding the right words
Initiating or joining in on conversations may appear difficult. Conversations may randomly be paused in the middle, as you or a loved one may forget how to finish a sentence.
Because of this, repetitive conversations can occur. You may have difficulty finding the right words for specific items.
Misplacing items often
You or a loved one may begin putting items in unusual places. It may become more difficult to retrace the steps to find any lost items. This may lead you or a loved one to think that others are stealing.
Difficulty making decisions
Financial choices may demonstrate poor judgment. This symptom often causes detrimental financial effects. An example of this is donating large amounts of money to telemarketers.
Physical hygiene also becomes less of a concern. You or a loved one may experience a rapid decline in bathing frequency and a lack of willingness to change clothing on a daily basis.
Withdrawing from work and social events
As symptoms appear, you may notice that you or a loved one becomes increasingly withdrawn from common social events, work projects, or hobbies that were previously important. Avoidance can increase as the symptoms worsen.
Experiencing personality and mood changes
Extreme swings in mood and personality may occur. A noticeable change in moods may include:
You may notice that you or your loved one is increasingly irritated when something outside of a normal routine takes place.
The exact cause of early onset AD hasn’t been fully determined. Many researchers believe that this disease develops as the result of multiple factors rather than one specific cause.
Causes and risk factors
Experts haven’t determined a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease but they have identified certain risk factors, including:
- Age. Most people who develop Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years of age or older.
- Family history. If you have an immediate family member who has developed the condition, you’re more likely to get it.
- Genetics. Certain genes have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease. It simply raises your risk level.
Getting older is the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects people under age 60, and some forms may be inherited. But early–onset disease represents less than 10% of all people with the disorder, according to the National Institute on Aging. Late-onset Alzheimer’s is the more common form of the disease, and its first symptoms may appear after age 65.
Besides age, other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:
- Down Syndrome. People with Down Syndrome are more at risk for Alzheimer’s because they have three copies of chromosome 21, which can lead to developing more amyloid plaques in the brain.
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People with MCI have more memory problems than normal for their age, but symptoms don’t interfere with their lives. MCI can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Severe head injuries. Head injuries have been linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Low education levels. People with less than a high-school education may be at higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
While there is no single test to diagnose Alzheimer’s, doctors may examine a patient for signs of stroke, tumors, thyroid disorders or vitamin deficiencies as these factors also affect memory and cognition.
Doctors will also perform a physical exam to assess the patient’s balance, muscle strength and coordination, and conduct neuropsychological tests of memory, language and basic math skills. Along with reviewing the patient’s medical history, the doctor may also survey family or friends about the patient’s behavior and personality changes.
Your doctor may also order brain-imaging studies. These studies, which will create pictures of your brain, can include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs can help pick up key markers, such as inflammation, bleeding, and structural issues.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan. CT scans take X-ray images which can help your doctor look for abnormal characteristics in your brain.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. PET scan images can help your doctor detect plaque buildup. Plaque is a protein substance related to Alzheimer’s symptoms.
There isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are medications available that treat some of the symptoms of the disease,However, your doctor can recommend medications and other treatments to help ease your symptoms and delay the progression of the disease for as long as possible.
For early to moderate Alzheimer’s, your doctor may prescribe medications such as donepezil (Aricept) or rivastigmine (Exelon). These drugs can help maintain high levels of acetylcholine in your brain. This is a type of neurotransmitter that can help aid your memory.
To treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, your doctor may prescribe donepezil (Aricept) or memantine (Namenda). Memantine can help block the effects of excess glutamate. Glutamate is a brain chemical that’s released in higher amounts in Alzheimer’s disease and damages brain cells.
Your doctor may also recommend antidepressants, antianxiety medications, or antipsychotics to help treat symptoms related to Alzheimer’s. These symptoms include:
Experts agree that in addition to medication, lifestyle factors, such as staying physically, mentally and socially active can all help the brain. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with moderate amounts of fish, poultry and dairy can also be beneficial.
If you or a loved one has AD, there are many resources available that can provide you with more information or connect you with face-to-face support services.
The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center offers an extensive literature database and has information about the most current research. The Alzheimer’s & Dementia Caregiver Center also provides valuable information for caregivers about what to expect at each stage of the disease.
- Read what the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has to say about Alzheimer’s disease.
- Learn more about Alzheimer’s in this free book from the National Institute on Aging.
- Find out what’s on the horizon in Alzheimer’s treatment from the Mayo Clinic.